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Was I Wrong to Ask for a Drink?

Was I Wrong to Ask for a Drink?

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© Zalman Kleinman
© Zalman Kleinman

Every Simchat Torah eve, as congregants in various synagogues in the town of Lubavitch finished dancing with the Torah, the wooden synagogue of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (the Rebbe Maharash, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe) slowly filled up as residents streamed inside from all over town. This was the custom throughout the years of Rabbi Shmuel’s leadership.

On one such Simchat Torah, a group of boisterous villagers burst through the entrance in high spirits, lead by the shamash (caretaker) of their congregation. All eyes were fixed on Rabbi Shmuel, who was halfway through melodiously chanting the list of verses that open the hakafot.

The newcomers, feeling extra joyous and possibly inebriated, asked that their leader be given the honor of reciting the tenth verse: “May our words find favor before the Master of all things.”

However, the shamash was not to say it from where he stood. Helped by strong hands, he was propelled through the tightly-knit throng to the front of the hall, right next to the rebbe.

“Before you say anything,” asserted Rabbi Shmuel, “you must explain the meaning of the verse.”

Slightly tipsy, the villager rejoined that he would do so—“But not before I say l’chaim!”

The rebbe approved. “He’s right. Give the man a bit to drink,” he called to his chassidim.

A glass of vodka was poured and the man drained the cup and wished everyone present a hearty l’chaim. The crowd waited patiently, expecting to hear the verse and its promised explanation.

“Pour me another one,” came the request from the shamash.

After downing the second cup, the man admitted: “I don’t know whether I am able to translate and explain the verse. Could the Rebbe please explain it for me?”

The rebbe agreed and immediately recited the verse, explaining: “May our words find favor before the Master of all things: We are praying that all our words, even our mundane speech, should be in accordance with the will of the Master of all.”

After hearing the rebbe’s interpretation, the crowd turned to the villager: “Why did you trick us with promises of an explanation you were not capable of giving? You got your drink unfairly!”

The loud shouts caught the rebbe’s attention. “I would like to tell a story,” he said.

“The Maggid of Mezeritch was very meticulous in every detail regarding the Rosh Hashanah services. Everything was prepared in advance. Before the holiday it was already determined who would lead the service, who would read the Torah, etc. Once, before the High Holidays, the Maggid approached his youngest student, the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi), and proposed: ‘Since the usual baal tokeah (the shofar blower) won’t be spending the holiday here, I would like you to take his place and blow the shofar for us this year.’

“The Alter Rebbe agreed on the condition that his master teach him Kabbalistic secrets of the shofar blasts.

“After being coached on the various intentions to keep in mind, the Alter Rebbe confessed that he did not actually know how to blow a shofar.

“The Maggid was taken aback. ‘So why did you trick me? I taught you all the secrets!’

“‘Look at Moses,’ rejoined the student. ‘He pulled the same thing. After G‑d revealed himself to Moses and instructed him to liberate the children of Israel from Egypt, Moses asked G‑d for His name. Only later did Moses begin to complain that he was unable to lead since he was a chronic stutterer!’”

That Simchat Torah night in Lubavitch, the assembled chassidim were rewarded with both an elucidation of text and an enlightening story.

Adapted from Shemuot Vesippurim Vol. 1, page 71

Adapted and translated by Asharon Baltazar from Rabbi Rephael Nachman Kahan's Shemuot Vesippurim.
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Yosef California October 11, 2017

The lesson? I obviously accept this story as an absolute truth and would not G-d forbid question Moshe Rabeinu or the Alter Rebbe. However, I do want to understand.

What exactly is the lesson from this story? Is it ok to be sly and misleading when one could possibly get spiritual gain from it?

Please enlighten me. Reply

James Brush Key Largo October 10, 2017

B"H that Chabad translates into English. my "Yiddish for Dummies" book is not helping me to understand what my Grandfather said to me. Reply